VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis pulled shut the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday, formally ending the Holy Year of Mercy he declared to stress the need for greater reconciliation and forgiveness in his church and in the world.
After closing the ornate door, Francis urged some 70,000 people attending Mass in St. Peter's Square to stay open to reconciliation prospects.
"Let us ask for the grace of never closing the doors of reconciliation and pardon, but rather of knowing how to go beyond evil and differences, opening every possible pathway of hope," the pope said during his homily.
A day earlier, at a ceremony to give the church 17 new cardinals, the pope lamented a surge of hostility and polarization in the world, especially toward those many consider enemies simply because they are from different faiths, races or nationalities.
"As God believes in us, infinitely beyond any merits we have, so, too, we are called to instill hope and provide opportunities to others," Francis said Sunday.
The Holy Year of Mercy, which started on Dec. 8, 2015, drew roughly 20 million pilgrims to Rome, where they passed through the open Holy Door at the Vatican and at other Rome basilicas.
A long line of faithful snaked through the square Saturday evening for the last opportunity to pass through St. Peter's Basilica Holy Door, which is off to the side of the main entrance.
Hours later, the pontiff slowly and firmly pulled close one side of the ornately paneled door, then the other side. The door will be re-sealed until another Holy Year is declared, whenever that might be.
Catholics worldwide also could pass through Holy Doors in designated churches closer to home during the last year, as Francis sought to put less attention on the church headquarters in Rome and more on adherents in the farthest reaches of the globe.
Francis opened one of those Holy Doors himself, at the Cathedral of Bangui, during a pilgrimage in late 2015 to the Central African Republic, a country bloodied by sectarian fighting between Muslims and Christians.
A Central African Republic prelate from that country was one of 17 churchmen officially given the rank of cardinal by the pope on Saturday. The new cardinals joined the rest of the cardinals during Sunday's Mass.
Francis made clear that his papacy, which began in 2013, would continue to press for dialogue and other peaceful means to end conflicts and bring people closer together.
At the end of the Sunday's Mass in the square, Francis signed a letter addressed to all the church. The Vatican said the letter expressed the pope's intention that the church "can continue to live out the mercy with the same intensity felt during the entire special Jubilee" Holy Year.
The pope handed out copies to various representatives of the Catholic world. They included a family of parents; children and grandparents from the United States; a nun from Mexico and a nun from South Korea; the archbishop of Manila; priests from the Democratic Republic of Congo and from Brazil; and a woman in a wheelchair, among others.
The Vatican plans to release the text of the letter on Monday.
Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio